Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

Another in an occasional series. This time, our perambulating attorney went for a stroll on Friday through the snow.

Walking in the Woods on a Snowy Morning.
By Bill Holston

When I realized it was going to be another snow day, I went up to the place I most frequently hike, the Spring Creek Nature Area in Richardson. It’s a surprisingly historical area.

Campbell, Routh, and Coit. These names are very familiar to anyone driving the streets of Dallas and Richardson. They happen to be the names of some of the very earliest settlers of this area. This land was settled by Jacob Routh in the 1850s. Jacob Routh and his brother Joseph immigrated to this area from Tennessee in 1851. Routh Street in Dallas was named by his son-in-law, the first commercial nursery owner in Dallas. They planted the magnolia trees along Ross. Both Routh brothers fell in love with daughters of fellow traveler Robert Fleming Campbell. They married the young women and both settled the area. I’ve read that the Rouths were a Quaker family that immigrated from England to Pennsylvania with their cousin William Penn. Jacob later became an ordained Baptist pastor. He built a home here as well as a church, which eventually became First Baptist Church of Plano. He also started a school and a store on this land, which was on a stagecoach route.

This nature area was made possible because Mr. Routh designated the area shouldn’t be plowed and wanted it to be a bird sanctuary. Later, the Galatyn Park Corporation obtained the land and donated 50 acres to the city of Richardson, creating this nature preserve. The preserve is filled with large trees, mostly cedar elms, oaks, and pecans. The preserve is intersected by Spring Creek, making for a nice urban oasis. Spring Creek is a large, clear creek. It eventually joins Rowlett Creek and flows into Lake Ray Hubbard.

I pick up the trail at a park on Braeburn and follow the paved portion. There’s no one at the park, and there are no tracks in the snow, which is about 6 inches deep. I take off walking at a brisk pace, which proves to be a mistake. I slip and fall about three times before I start walking on the side of the paved path which is apparently a sheet of ice beneath the snow. The trail goes underneath Plano Road, and I see huge icicles hanging off the sides of the creek banks across the stream. It’s about 19 degrees.

The paved portion of the trail is about 2 miles. There are a couple of loops that you can follow to add a bit of mileage. After about a mile, I follow a loop trail that branches off to the left. The trail crosses Spring Creek. Sometimes, I stop on this bridge and watch ducks swimming upstream. As I curve around the bend in the trail, I notice some fresh animal tracks. I wonder if there’s a loose dog, when suddenly a coyote darts in front of me and heads into the thick woods that surround me. I smile. It’s my only company this morning.

My favorite part of this hike is a large meadow that an old dirt trail crosses. One thing I love about hiking at the same spot is that I enjoy seeing it in different seasons. In the spring, the meadow is covered with wildflowers. In the summer, the grasses die off. And in the fall, the grasses turn a lovely gold. Today the meadow is filled with snow. Coyote tracks crisscross the snow in the meadow.

On the other side of this field is a historic cemetery. There’s a historic marker there that marks the Routh Cemetery. There are graves there from as early as 1850.

From the cemetery, I follow an old dirt road. The dirt road crosses a small stream that must be spring-fed, as it runs year round. I’ve never seen it dry, even in the middle of summer. Today it’s running, although its banks are covered with snow. I decide to sit here for a moment, because of the lovely sound that the brook makes. I sit and have a coffee. I sit at this spot for a long time. In my backpack, I carry the essentials: a water bottle; a first aid kit; some energy bars; binoculars; and emergency rain gear. I also carry a journal, pen, and the Psalms. I pull out the Psalms and sit and read Psalm 119, an acrostic poem. The only sound is the sound of snow falling from the trees when the wind blows and the water in this small stream.

Eventually, I move on. The road crosses through some woods, and I find the smaller family plot where Jacob Routh is buried with his wife, Lodemia; two unmarried daughters; and a couple of their pets. The plot is just a few feet from a 25-foot bluff overlooking Spring Creek. I’ve sat on that bluff many times over the years, and it’s my favorite spot in the area. From my perch, I’ve watched all sorts of natural beauty. In the summer, I’ve watched sunfish spawn in the gravel bed of the creek. I’ve watched beavers swim upstream, mallards paddling, and, in the summer, hummingbirds feeding on blooming yucca. Today, I see that part of the stream is frozen over. This entire area is filled with birds. I’ve seen golden rumped warblers, brown creepers, Carolina chickadees, nuthatches, and lots of cedar waxwings. Today, there are lots of dark-eyed juncos sitting on the stems of the grasses poking up out of the snow. A couple of cardinals sit in the elm that is across the stream from me.

I’ve always enjoyed old graveyards. The sterile so-called “perpetual care gardens” seem too groomed to have real character. Old rural cemeteries have rusted gates and wrought-iron fences. The marble headstones are hard worn by the weather and bear simple, honest epitaphs. Jacob’s reads simply, “Asleep in Jesus.” Old cemeteries tell poignant stories. For instance, Jacob and Lodemia’s only sons are both buried in the larger cemetery. One unnamed infant was buried three days after his birth in April 1867. His older brother died at 3 years old, six months later. Life on this frontier was hard.

There’s something really restful about seeing these old stones. I can see why they’d want to be buried there. It’s just about as peaceful a place as it was when he was buried there in 1879. The only real change is the sound of the DART train on the tracks to the west. I’m not very keen on burial personally. It seems like a poor use of land. I’ve left instructions that I want to be cremated and my ashes spread in Big Bend. That’s probably illegal, but what are they gonna do, fine me?

One of the things that concerns me about this area is the amount of private land that surrounds the park. The area is surrounded by undeveloped private land, which, if developed, will remove a buffer that permits the wildlife to flourish there. Obviously there is a cost to purchase this land, but it would benefit the area for many years to come to expand the area presently protected. This has an economic benefit as well. When we preserve these patches of nature, it makes the entire area more attractive to businesses considering relocating.

When I started hiking here, there was tons of trash. Over the last couple of years, I’ve hauled out hundreds of pounds of beer bottles, and I’m happy to say it’s much cleaner than when I started. I hauled a shopping cart out of that creek.

I usually create a loop out of this hike by following an old road back over to the new Routh Parkway and rejoining the paved trail. The bike and hike path has a circular ramp from street level down to the path. It’s a beautiful spot, overlooking the Caruth Branch tributary to Spring Creek. I then return back to where my car is parked. When I get back, there are kids hauling sleds to the hill there.

Jacob Routh lived in a huge home that was located somewhere in the woods here. There’s nothing left of it now. It was burned by vandal’s in the ’60s. I think about the fact that all of this old building has been replaced by either woods, fields, or modern development. We don’t seem to value or even know our history here in Dallas. When I leave this place, I always feel a part of those who came before us, when this land was endless prairie, intersected by clear streams, and endless possibility.

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4 comments on “Law Man Walking: Nature Treks With Bill Holston

  1. Love these reports!
    I wanted to go out walking in the snow last week, too, but I was stuck inside with a bad head cold.

    Is there any way there could be maps posted with these reports so those of us who are inclined can visit these out of the way trails as well?

  2. @Sam: That’s not a bad idea at all. I was thinking that at some point we might compile some of Bill’s reports and publish them together. A map would be an excellent accompaniment to such a compendium.

  3. I enjoy history. The way that places change fascinates me, the way lives change and history changes intrigues me. I shoot many photographs in my attempt to capture these points in time.

    I’ve hiked and biked through Spring Creek Nature Area a few times, and I’ve visited one of its cemeteries. I have a few photos and videos of it, though I haven’t yet posted them online. The Nature Area is one of a half-dozen natural and historical locations that I regularly visit in the Allen-Plano-Richardson-Garland area.

    I’ve spent the last decade exploring Texas and the surrounding area. I often think of what led the first settlers to each area in Texas, and how that affects us today. Texas is such a young state, and so much of its early history is still visible. I’ve hardly scratched the surface of it.